Auli‘i Cravalho makes her acting debut as the voice of Disney’s Moana
Today marks the 16th birthday of Moana star Auli‘i Cravalho and it’s safe bet that she’s having a memorable week. Tomorrow sees the big-screen release of Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ latest animated adventure and Auli’i’s very first role! She’s lending her voice (including her singing voice) to the title character and starring opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the new feature from Disney legends Ron Clements and John Musker, the pair responsible for animated classics like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog and many more.
Boasting original music by Hamilton‘s Lin-Manuel Miranda alongside Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, Moana follows Cravalho‘s adventurous teenager as she risks everything to sail out on a daring mission to save her people. It is on the South Pacific seas that Moana meets the once-mighty demigod Maui (Johnson), who guides her in her quest to become a master wayfinder. Together, they sail across the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous monsters and impossible odds, and along the way, Moana fulfills the ancient quest of her ancestors and discovers the one thing she’s always sought: her own identity.
Sitting down with CS, Auli‘i Cravalho takes a look back at the incredible path she has taken from getting discovered by Disney to truly becoming Moana‘s inspirational heroine.
CS: I’m sure you’ve told this story quite a bit today, but where did Moana really begin for you?
Auli‘i Cravalho: I had kind of an unusual casting story, I suppose. I didn’t really try out for the role of Moana because the main auditions were happening in my freshman year of high school and, let’s face it, freshman year of high school is confusing enough as it is. So I was focusing on school but, as fate would have it, my friends and I decided to put together an audition for something totally separate. We were hoping to perform at a non-profit event and raise money for that event. As it turned out, the woman who was going through those was also going through the auditions for Moana. She saw my audition for that and asked if I wanted to transfer and do Moana instead. Because we didn’t get into the other audition. I’m still thanking my lucky stars, because it turned out pretty well.
CS: So after you land the role, does everything start happening overnight?
Auli‘i Cravalho: It was over the course of a year. It went by in the wink of an eye. It kind of felt overnight. So much as happened over the past year that I almost don’t recognize the person who almost didn’t try out for Moana because she felt she wasn’t good enough. I’ve really gone on the same journey that Moana goes on as far as figuring out who she is. I think that’s so special that me, a 15-year old going on 16, can learn so much from an animated character. We’ve had Disney princesses and this is a Disney heroine. I’m excited to see her on the big screen.
CS: What would you say was the biggest surprise in the process?
Auli‘i Cravalho: The number of times I would have to record the same line! That blew my mind. I didn’t full understand it until it was explained to me. I would record a line — as many voice actors do — up to 30 or 40 times. Every lilt of our voice and every emphasis on a different word can bring about a different emotion. That’s so crazy cool. The directors have a main hand in deciding which takes of those 30 or 40 has the emotion that they want. That’s where I think one part of the magic comes in, because I never recorded with Dwayne Johnson or Temura Morrison or Rachel House, who are my costars in this. Yet it sounds like we’re having a conversation right in front of each other. It blew my mind to see it come together on the big screen.
CS: When it comes to acting, is singing similar to doing the voice?
Auli‘i Cravalho: For me, it was different. It was significantly different. When I sing, it’s different from when I speak in a very interesting way. I think that, when you’re singing, a message is carried in a different way. I don’t know if that emotion needs a melody. I’m not sure. When I would sing, I needed the lights to be turned down a little bit. Thinking back on it now, I go, “Why did I do that?” I think it’s because I didn’t want to feel like people were watching me. If you’ve ever been a booth, you’ll know that you’re kind of in this soundproof room and there’s a glass. Behind the glass, you’ve got directors and animators or writers watching you. They’re sometimes sketching you or paying close attention to exactly how you’re pronouncing words. I was kind of overwhelmed. More overwhelmed, I think, than if I was just voice acting. So I asked for the lights to be turned down and I will truly never forget that experience. I became one with the music and I really felt the emotion that Moana felt. I think it turned out pretty well!
CS: I think a lot of people are going to be facing this in the weeks to come: Which of the songs has been the hardest to keep out of your head?
Auli‘i Cravalho: (Laughs) “You’re Welcome!” It’s not even my song! But it’s so catchy. I think what really surprised me the most was Dwayne’s voice. I had never heard Dwayne sing and he nailed that song. I also know that Lin[-Manuel Miranda]’s rap will never leave my head. “Me mini-Maui just tippity tapping?” I can’t get that in the same line with everything else. I know that’s not going to leave my head for a long, long time.
CS: What was your first encounter with Ron and John like?
Auli‘i Cravalho: They are incredible! They are Disney legends. I have watched their films over and over and over and they will be watched for years and years to come. This is my first ever film and this is my first ever job and I got to work with these animation legends! They’re so kind and funny. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that this would happen to me. I kind of think of them as two bodies and two minds with one soul. And maybe they even share the mind. They’re always talking over one another another and finishing each other’s sentences. They both know exactly what they’re trying to say, but they use different adjectives and get louder and louder. They’re like, “No, no!” I remember it was really funny when, in production meetings, they would sometimes fall asleep. They are the busiest people. They are up past midnight every night worrying about the smallest things like which direction Moana’s hair should blow. If the flower should be in the right ear or the left ear. These little things make the biggest difference.
CS: What was the biggest change to the film from when you came aboard to the final cut?
Auli‘i Cravalho: There were so many changes in storyboards and to the script. Some things got cut and some things got added. Some things that were so incredibly beautiful had to be removed because they just didn’t end up having the right feel. So you add things and take things out and smooth some things over. So in the final product, for instance, Moana — who sometimes I just say is me — didn’t have a mother at one point. It was just her and her dad, which made him all the more protective over her. We realized that we needed someone to push her as well. Who would be that last push to continue on her journey. To really embark on it, actually. There were a lot of changes, but they really developed beautifully.
CS: Do you know what’s next for you?
Auli‘i Cravalho: There are a few things cooking! I’m really excited. This is not at all what I thought I’d be doing but, now that I’m in this industry, I don’t want to get out. That’s for sure. I also really enjoy microbiology. That was actually what I had my sights set on before all this happened. I’m hoping to pursue both. I realize that that’s kind of an inspirational story as I talk to others. My friends have said, “Wait, you’re pretty and you sing? What do you mean you’re interested in science?” I have to just hold my head and go, “Do you hear yourself?” By no means should you ever limit yourself because of what others think or because of their perceptions of what someone looks like in a certain field. I think that that is stupid and crazy, so I’ll be pursuing both! They’re both my passions and I just can’t leave other behind.
Moana hits 3D and 2D theaters tomorrow, November 23. Are you going to check it out this week? Let us know in the comments below!
(Photo Credit: Michael Boardman / WENN.com)